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Toward a Saner Cuban Policy


Finally, someone of consequence is talking sense on our senseless Cuban foreign policy.

Senator Richard Lugar, ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most respected foreign policy voices on Capitol Hill, wrote in a report drafted over the weekend that, “We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests.”

That’s the kind of sentiment that has been too long in coming. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has seen fit to continue a foolish grudge match with Cuba that amounts to little more than ridiculous display of stubborn pride.

What has our policy toward Cuba achieved for the United States over the last twenty years? Pardon me while I go freshen my coffee and catch up on some morning reading while you strain your brain thinking of a good answer to that question.

Time was we had every reason to take a hostile posture toward Cuba, even if the dramatic political change that turned the country from playground for America’s uber-wealthy to Communist launch pad was fomented in part by our political miscalculations and bungling during and after the Fidel Castro-led revolution from 1957-1959. Once the Soviets took advantage of the situation and established a political and military foothold on the island, we had little choice but to dig in and do what we could to protect our shores from the potential threat Cuba represented.

The high-stakes poker match is most closely associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but also included Operation Mongoose, a failed covert program aimed at using subterfuge and sabotage to undermine and, eventually, overthrow the Castro regime. But such policies became obsolete once the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.

Our antagonistic posturing with Cuba has played an important role in U.S. domestic political strategy, most evident every fourth November when presidential wannabes from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush have promised to maintain the status quo in order to win the votes of conservative Cuban-Americans in South Florida, but apart from Election Day placations for Little Havana expats, the only reason I can deduce for maintaining our hostile posture with Cuba is because, economically, it costs us nothing and makes us feel tough.

This suspicion came into clear focus in the summer of 2006 when the discovery of oilfields in Cuban waters coincided with the development of technology that made accessing the deep reserves feasible, prompting Congress to propose exempting U.S. oil companies from the embargo (and at least one astute columnist to point out the proposal’s hypocrisy).

Somewhere there’s an economic threshold that must be crossed before Washington decides Cuba’s evils can be forgiven. Even in matters of national security, it always seems to come down to economics.

Economics are why we so willingly look beyond China’s horrendous record of human rights abuses and the serious military threat posed by the world’s most populous country. Economics are why we so willingly look beyond Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses and the serious military threat posed by the world’s most oil-rich country. At the other end of the scale, economics are why we so willingly look beyond the plight of the poor and oppressed people in places like Darfur, Malawi, and Burma.

As I argued in 2006, I believe the United States must do a better job of being a good neighbor to all the nations that make up the Americas, and our foreign policy in this region must be based on mutual respect. Just because we carry the biggest stick doesn’t mean we have a right to brandish it. Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua may not represent a military threat to the U.S., but they can make life difficult here by maintaining nationalistic rhetoric against us, rallying the impoverished people of Latin America toward anti-Americanism at a time when the entire world is struggling economically, and giving our global rival, China, an even greater opportunity to buy political influence in our hemisphere.

By re-evaluating our Cuban policy and giving rise to normalization of relationships with one of our closest neighbors, we can signal to all of Latin America that we are willing to work through our past differences and recognize the manifold ways in which our nations are linked, and work to do what is in our common good.

Posted by Mike Spinney at 6:00 AM | Permalink

He Had a Dream!


In spite of my Christian beliefs, I’m a notorious humbug around the holidays. I just don’t see how gathering around a pagan totem in the spirit of avarice can possibly bring honor to Christ. I’m not even certain that the government should be in the business of religious ceremony. Which brings me to our next national holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dr. King isn’t getting his due from what I can see. After all, if we’re serious about honoring the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest hero shouldn’t we be using the observation of his birthday as an excuse to shill for a quick buck? Isn’t that the American way?

Consider the abundant marketing opportunities as a Dr. King impersonator appears on your television screen bellowing:

I have a dream – a dream of lower prices!

I have climbed the mountain – and it’s a mountain of savings!

Free at last, free at last – buy one, get one free, while supplies last!

Without the taint of commercialism I have to believe Americans haven’t really embraced Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There’s a lingering sense that we acquiesced to the holiday based on a sense of guilt, and not the overwhelming merit of King’s life and accomplishments. That’s the only logical reason I can think of to explain why everyone from Wal-Mart to Slick Rick’s Used Car Emporium is afraid of mining this rich advertising vein — the fear of finding Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton camped out in their parking lot after launching such a campaign.

Let me be clear on this issue: I fully support honoring Dr. King with a national holiday. I have the utmost respect for the man who lived and died for the noblest of causes and principles, and who exemplified the words of Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

I am humbled by Dr. King’s life and legacy. King accomplished more in 39 short years than I can hope to do should I live to be 100. He gave selflessly of himself and changed a nation for the better. I’m thankful that I have been blessed to live in the world he helped shape and marvel at the well-timed inauguration ceremony that will punctuate what Dr. King’s sacrifice has made possible in America today.

I do, however, find it more than just a little ironic that the birthday of a man who preached and followed the teachings of Christ, indeed, was martyred and became an exemplar of the life lived by the very Son of God, would be treated with more reverence than the birthday of Jesus himself.

I’m not sure Dr. King would have wanted to be regarded as more sacred than the King of Kings. I’m not sure he’d want to be treated with more respect than presidents Washington and Lincoln.

Christmas has devolved into little more than the apex of a month-long marketing spree, where consumer spending and economic indices are watched with greater anticipation than our moral compass. Retailers sell their souls in December and hope that, by tempting shoppers with the promise of satisfying wanton lust, they can make up for eleven months of sloth.

Likewise, we celebrate the death and resurrection of that same Savior by stuffing candy and colored eggs into baskets under the pretense that a beneficent rabbit is on the loose spreading joy throughout the land. I’m sure Jesus is pleased that He chose to suffer on a cross so that we could nibble the ears off a chocolate bunny.

And, in another month, hucksters of every stripe will don powdered wig and stovepipe hat while imploring any and all to “save a few presidents” on a car, or mattress, or some other must-have piece of flimsy merchandise. Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day have all become mere excuses for an extended weekend bacchanalia, and I doubt four out of five random citizens can tell you when we observe Flag Day or Veteran’s Day.

Dr. King spoke eloquently of his longing for a day when people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. He fought and died for equality and to break down the racial taboos that divided a nation and its diverse peoples. In spite of Barack Obama’s landmark victory last November, many of the taboos King spoke of remain firmly entrenched within our culture. If Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory is among them, can we ever hope to achieve his dream?

Posted by Mike Spinney at 11:30 AM | Permalink

Mike Huckabee’s Moses Moment


One of the good things about New England ice storms and the extended power outages that follow is that you can find time to catch up on your reading. In my case, that consisted of Mike Huckabee’s recent release, Do the Right Thing.

I was interested in Huckabee’s book because I wanted to spend a little more time getting to know the mind of an evangelical- turned-presidential-contender. In spite of Huckabee’s engaging personality and surprising showing during the 2008 Republican nomination process, I never got the sense that he was treated with the same seriousness that other candidates received. The beauty pageant that is the American presidential election cycle, by catering to sound bite and superficiality, never gets too far below the surface of any of the hopefuls. As a result, we learned more about Huckabee’s cooking peculiarities than we did how he might manage the country.

Do the Right

I knew from reviews and other discussions that the book would be part manifesto and part campaign confidential, so revelations that Mike Huckabee doesn’t much care for former rival Mitt Romney, and that Mike Huckabee doesn’t much care for Libertarians were expected. Most of the book’s more salacious content has been covered already – and you expect a little more from me than regurgitated anecdotes about Huckabee’s new best pal, Chuck Norris.

So even though I think that many Libertarians hold to a purer conservative philosophy than most Republicans – I am a registered Libertarian, after all – my focus was on Huckabee’s balance and reconciliation of personal faith and public political position. I was also interested to see how Huckabee the candidate jibes with my perception of Huckabee the author.

Despite my misgivings about his take on Libertarians, as I worked my way through Do the Right Thing, I found myself nodding in agreement. Many of his positions on economics and tax policy, social issues, healthcare, and national service and volunteerism are fairly close to my own. Why then, I asked myself, was I not persuaded to support him during the primary season (even if, as a registered Libertarian, I could not have voted for him in Massachusetts)?

Partly because my personal opinion of Huckabee could not be reconciled with my more general aversion to candidates who wield the club of religious faith to gain political advantage. Many times in the book Huckabee expresses his disappointment over not receiving the endorsement of a number of prominent Christian figureheads, including Pat Robertson, Bob Jones III, John Hagee, and Gary Bauer. He sounds as if his fellow evangelicals had an obligation to do endorse him. And, interestingly, there was no mention in the book of the steadfast support Huckabee received from the likes of friend and prosperity gospel charlatan Kenneth Copeland.

My duty as a Christian is not, after all, to blindly cast my vote for whichever candidate is best able to convince me of his religious sincerity, but to study the word of God, strengthen my faith, and be guided by wisdom and the Spirit before prayerfully casting my ballot. Besides, we’ve already got a template of what can happen when the so-called religious right aligns itself with a candidate simply because he claims the mantle of faith. And the temptation for politicians to put their faith (whether genuine or artificial) on display in hopes of currying favor with an important voting bloc is all too real, even when outward evidence would suggest a less than sincere devotion.

Mike Huckabee asserts, by writing this book and remaining an active voice in American politics, that he is trying to reform the Republican Party by helping it return to a more traditional brand of conservativism, and that by enunciating his views he will inspire values voters to bring pressure on party leadership to fall in line. I think Huckabee should stop wasting his time with the GOP, which has demonstrated that it is perfectly comfortable with malleable principles that have given us unprecedented expansion of the federal government, economic ruin, and the lack of a national moral compass.

In keeping with his Christian tradition, Huckabee may believe that his party is not beyond redemption, but I disagree.

I’ve argued before that if the religious right is sincere about its desire to reform the American political system, it should do so not from within the party that has betrayed its most loyal members, but by leading an exodus of those voters to a new party – a political promised land as it were.

We know you want to be president, Mr. Huckabee, but are you prepared to be a Moses?

Posted by Mike Spinney at 9:31 AM | Permalink

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